Family courts in New Jersey try to have as many divorce cases as possible settled before ever going to trial. One of the mediation programs used to accomplish this is the Early Settlement Program (ESP). After a judge reviews the divorce complaint and other information provided by both parties, he or she will often refer the case to ESP.
If you are referred to ESP by a judge, your participation in this process is mandatory. Failing to attend this program or to provide the necessary case information no more than five days prior to the hearing date could result in your having to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees or having your case dismissed.
At an ESP hearing, you and your spouse will appear before an ESP panel made up of two or three New Jersey family law attorneys who have volunteered to help mediate the divorce. This panel will review all the case documents, including the settlement proposals from each party stating their positions on alimony, child support, division of marital assets and debts, and other financial issues. The ESP panel does not deal with custody or visitation issues. The attorneys for both parties will also have an opportunity to present their respective client’s case to the panel.
Once the panel has heard both sides, it will discuss the case and make its recommendation for a settlement based on the law and their experience of how a judge would likely decide the case if it went to trial.
The settlement recommendation is confidential and non-binding, and you and your spouse can either accept or reject it. If you accept it, you will go before a judge to testify under oath that you understand and will abide by the agreement and you will likely leave court divorced. The parties also have the option to accept just some of the terms.
If you reject the settlement recommendation, you still have the option of going to trial. However, in rejecting the settlement, you will typically be ordered to attend economic mediation as well as an Intensive Settlement Conference.
The goal of these settlement programs is to save time and money as well as to minimize the emotional stress of the divorce process. Having an attorney on your side who is experienced in the mediation process can help your divorce go more smoothly.
Protecting your interests and achieving results that support your needs is what you can expect from Cistaro Law. Contact us today for your free consultation.